Longtime Bed Stuy Resident Claudette Brady Reflects on Preservation and Change

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Since moving to Bed Stuy in 1995, Claudette Brady has helped revive her block association, organized It’s My Park Day at Von King Park, served as a member of Community Board 3, and is on the advisory board of the Historic Districts Council. She was a driving force behind the landmarking of the Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District and the Bedford Historic District.

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Brady’s latest endeavor came out of a personal struggle. After a health crisis several years ago inspired her to change careers, Brady started Slip Stitch Needlecraft while recuperating. Brady opened Slip Stitch originally as an online retailer specializing in knitting supplies, then as a pop-up shop in late 2015, and finally as a full store at 450 Nostrand Avenue in Bed Stuy.

The shop hosts a monthly get together called Stitch and Kvetch; after the presidential election in November, locals met at the shop to knit dozens of pink Pussy Hat Project protest hats for the Women’s March in January.

She’s currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign to alter the store to create space for a year-round marketplace for local makers.

historic preservation bed stuy claudette brady interview

Known among her friends for her sense of humor, Brady is a passionate activist, particularly when it comes to preservation. We recently spoke to Brady about what she’s been up to and her thoughts on preservation and the changing neighborhood.

Brownstoner: Can you tell us a little about what you do?

Brady: Slip Stitch Needlecraft is a needle and fiber arts shop carrying a large selection of yarns, knitting and crochet supplies and a small selection of cross stitch and embroidery supplies. Due to customer requests we are expanding our embroidery and cross stitch inventory and are adding needle felting equipment as well as fiber for spinning.

historic preservation bed stuy claudette brady interview

A fine row on Hancock Street in the recently landmarked Bedford Historic District

What’s something about Bed Stuy that isn’t that well known that you want others to know?

Bed Stuy generally has the highest level of participation in the Greenest Block in Brooklyn and has consistently won or placed in one of the judging categories.

Why do you think it’s important to preserve older parts of Brooklyn?

I give all the known arguments for preservation, history, etc. However, in the end we are preserving a sense of place (a small eco-system). Our built environment informs how we live, how we interact in that space, how we build relationships in that space. We choose to live in communities for reasons beyond the cost of rent or a mortgage, we choose neighborhoods in part on how we feel in a particular neighborhood. We are on daily basis unconsciously aware of how the built environment (the bulk of the building, the amount of light and air) affects our well being. While still dense, our brownstone neighborhoods are human-scaled.

How has Bed Stuy changed since you’ve been there and where do you see it going?

The biggest change has been whites moving to the neighborhood, which changed personal interactions in the neighborhood.

historic preservation bed stuy claudette brady interview

Claudette speaking about preservation on a panel in 2015. Photo by Cate Corcoran

Can you elaborate a bit?

It is beyond just not saying hello, it is the feeling by some that we do not care about our neighborhood or our properties. I have been asked “why don’t people fix up their buildings, don’t they care about their neighborhood?” This inevitably leads to a discussion on the long term effects of redlining, planned shrinkage, urban renewal, predatory lending and the recent mortgage crisis on neighborhoods of color. There is also a lack of acknowledgement of the contributions of African-Americans to the cultural and economic life of the neighborhood. Look at any developer’s brochure listing the neighborhoods amenities, they most often exclusively highlight business and venues owned by whites.

What inspired you to start Slip Stitch Needlecraft?

I have been sewing, knitting and crocheting since I was a child. After recovering from my illness, I decided I wanted to work at something I loved, not just something I was good at.

Do you have any advice for people who would like to make their neighborhood (or the world) a better place?

[Have] respect for people and cultures which are dissimilar to your own.

A fine house on the corner of Hancock and Marcy in the Bedford Historic District

A fine Montrose Morris house on the corner of Hancock and Marcy in the Bedford Historic District

What’s next? Do you have any upcoming plans or projects you’d like to share with us?

I have had requests by local makers to carry their products in the store. The goal is to provide not just the space but display equipment as well so that there will be mini boutiques in the store rather than creating a flea market. We are also expanding our children’s programing for the summer and will be hosting more fiber and non-fiber related events.

historic preservation bed stuy claudette brady

2015’s Greenest Block on Bainbridge Street between Malcolm X Boulevard and Stuyvesant Avenue in Bed Stuy. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]

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